Bishop fears austerity will lead to more unrest
Published 08 July 2012
With no end to austerity in sight, the Bishop of Bath and Wells has said that the Church of England must be ready to respond in case of more social unrest.
Addressing the General Synod in York on Sunday, the Rt Rev Peter Price said he was praying that there would be no repeat of last August’s riots across England but warned that “social tensions will not go away”.
He praised the way in which churches in the riot-hit areas went out onto the streets to support the police, reach out to rioters, and help in the clean-up.
However he said it was an indictment of the state of British society today that “emergency ministry” from the Church was necessary.
“None of us need reminding about the financial crisis that has been the background to all our politics and policies for the last four years,” he said.
The bishop acknowledged the “immense pressure” on the Chancellor and policy makers from the financial markets and credit rating agencies, but said he wanted to “sound a clear warning note about the social consequences of austerity measures which hit the most vulnerable hardest and leave the very rich unscathed”.
“When the nation tightens its belt, inevitably the least resilient are those who suffer most,” he said.
He added later: “Where hope has been killed off and with no prospect of escape, is it surprising that their energies erupt in antisocial and violent actions?
“In a consumer society, is it surprising that lasting after high-status goods is seen as a way to find meaning?”
Bishop Price noted that the ministry of the church on the streets of riot-affected areas was an opportunity to demonstrate faith in action for the good of all.
“We live in an age when the public understanding of religious belief is often woeful – and most woeful sometimes, among influential people,” he said.
“Religion is perceived as irrational and therefore socially useless, if not undesirable.”
Going forward, he said churches were called to address the hopelessness in communities “preferably before the cauldron bubbles over”.
Also speaking during the debate on last summer’s riots, the Rev Jacqueline Stober, of the Diocese of Liverpool said the response of the church last August demonstrated that it was capable of “something more relevant than making the tea”.
The Venerable Christopher Sims, of the Diocese of Lichfield, said he had been grateful for the coverage that the media gave to the efforts of local churches during the riots.
However he questioned whether the media had “overstepped the mark between thorough coverage and obsession”.
“Scenes of the riots were played over and over again at every opportunity and I wonder if that was instrumental in how these riots spread around the country,” he said.
The Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, the Rt Rev John Packer, said the level of “local despair” was an indicator that the Church needs to “take more seriously the needs of the urban parishes”.
“We worry that ministry in our urban areas is not viable,” he said. “Whatever viable means, that ministry is absolutely crucial in Gospel terms.”
He commended the presence of youth workers on the streets during the riots in Leeds, but said that cuts to youth services, both church and local authority-funded, “threaten that presence and we need to do all we can to maintain and develop our contribution”.
The Bishop of Southwark, Dr Christopher Chessun suggested the Church had a role to play in helping to improve relations between the police and young people, and “create a vision that transcends the selfishness that underpinned the riots”.
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